COUNTRIES:  Lesotho, South Africa

AREA: 14,740 km.

STATUS: Category A: MOU signed on 11 June 2001 (equivalent of a Treaty)

This majestic TFCA marks the marriage between two contrasting landscapes, as old as the mountains themselves – where the uKhahlamba – ‘the wall of spears’, clashes against the Sehlathebe – ‘the plateau of shields’. It is a place of dizzying heights, plunging rock faces, and rock painted tales of days long gone.

Overview

The Maloti Drakensberg TFCA covers a total area of 14,740 km. comprising the mountains that straddle the eastern border of the landlocked mountain Kingdom of Lesotho with the Republic of South Africa. The TFCA is composed of four sub-regions: (i) the Eastern Cape Drakensberg and Witteberge, (ii) the KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg, (iii) the Lesotho Maloti Mountains, and (iv) the eastern Free State. The TFCA boasts three National Parks, the Sehlabathebe and Tsehlanyane National Parks in Lesotho and the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in South Africa. The Governments of Lesotho and South Africa signed an MOU on 11 June 2001, which was drafted in such a way that it is the equivalent of a TFCA Treaty. Almost seven years later, the two partner countries completed their joint management plans for the TFCA. On 22 June 2013, UNESCO inscribed Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park as an extension to the Ukahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site in South Africa, becoming the Maloti Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site, which is Lesotho’s first World Heritage Site listing.

Natural and Cultural Heritage

The Maloti Drakensberg Mountains are home to a vast array of cultural heritage features. The mountains, with their highest peak Thaba Ntlenyana rising to 3,482 m, contains the largest, most concentrated collection of rock paintings in Sub-Sahara Africa. 35,000-40,000 individual images are housed in more than 600 known sites; and painted by the San people over a period of more than 4,000 years. Other cultural heritage includes palaeontology, stone-age and iron-age excavations, sites and artefacts.

The TFCA encompasses both a grassland biome and afro-montane forest biome, and is an important centre of endemism for montane plant species. Comprising a 500 km long alpine and montane area, the TFCA can be found in the south-eastern portion of the great escarpment of southern Africa. By far, the most important water catchment for the people of both Lesotho and South Africa, the integrated wetland systems provides critical water purification and ecosystem storage services for both countries. The Tugela-Vaal Scheme and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project transport water from the catchment to the metropolis of Johannesburg and surrounding cities, while at the same time producing electricity for Lesotho.

This area contains a range of globally significant fauna and flora, including over 2,500 species of flowering plants, of which 13% are endemic. Plant diversity and endemism in the region are related to broad-scale altitudinal, topographic and climatic gradients, as well as an array of micro-habitats. The high cliffs are also home to endangered species such as the Cape vulture and the bearded vulture. Sehlabathebe National Park’s African alpine tundra ecosystem, with its 250 endemic plant species, significantly enhances the value of Ukahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site. This site hosts 23% of the plant species found in the whole of the Maloti-Drakensberg area. Apart from the unique flora in the park, there is a record number of 65 rock art sites, and other forms of previous habitation.

The People of Maloti-Drakensberg TFCA

This vast stretch of land is home to almost two million people, contributing to an explicit goal of the TFCA – to make a positive difference in the livelihoods of people in these communities. Significant numbers of other people are also indirectly dependent on the regions’ ecosystem services. Large areas of the TFCA are under various forms of common property regimes, including land-uses and tenure systems, formal protected areas, privately owned commercial farms, range management areas, and human settlements. These multiple forms of land-use result in a variety of human-biodiversity challenges, including impacts from grazing, conflicts between traditional tribal resource management and park resource management strategies, and conflicting land-use priorities. The two countries have different land management strategies, with diverse governance systems (state vs. traditional authority). Key livelihood activities include agriculture, extractive resource use and tourism. A primary challenge in an area with such a large population is to conserve the natural environment and maintain healthy ecosystem services while meeting the development needs of its people. Despite the drive to improve tourism and related livelihoods options into the TFCA, there are still challenges of inaccessibility into some areas, as well as a lack of adequate resources to improve, maintain and expand tourism assets.

There are currently two related strategies being explored to increase community livelihood and to reduce the impact of cattle grazing in prime ecosystems. The first is the proposed development of a payment scheme for those deriving ecosystem services from the area – the income generated would benefit local communities and help maintain and manage park services for the TFCA. The second is the re-introduction of resource associations that help to manage grazing on communal pastures.

Highlights

  • Drakensberg mountains
  • Maloti Mountains
  • UNESCO World Heritage Maloti-Drakensberg Park
  • Unique Rock Art

Activities

  • Hiking and trekking
  • Pony treks and horse rides
  • Cultural encounters
  • Mountain biking
  • Fly fishing
  • White water rafting (in season)
  • Skiing & snowboarding (in season)

Getting there

Fly in into Johannesburg or Durban and take regional roads leaving off N3, N5 and N2 into the various parts of Maloti-Drakensberg TFCA.

Getting around

  • Self-drive
  • Organized Tours

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